Study Guide

An Abundance of Katherines Quotes

  • Individuality

    When it comes to girls (and in Colin's case, it so often did), everyone has a type. Colin Singleton's type was not physical but linguistic: he liked Katherines. And not Katies or Kats or Kitties or Cathys or Rynns or Trinas or Kays or Kates or, God forbid, Catherines. K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E. He had dated nineteen girls. All of them had been named Katherine. And all of them—every single solitary one—had dumped him. When it comes to girls (and in Colin's case, it so often did), everyone has a type. Colin Singleton's type was not physical but linguistic: he liked Katherines. And not Katies or Kats or Kitties or Cathys or Rynns or Trinas or Kays or Kates or, God forbid, Catherines. K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E. He had dated nineteen girls. All of them had been named Katherine. And all of them—every single solitary one—had dumped him. (3.26)

    There you have it—we get a peak into Colin's dating history, and let's just say it ain't pretty. All he's ever dated are Katherines, and they are so mashed up together in his mind that they are no longer individuals. K-1 through 19 are just that: a series of numbers. They aren't even people anymore because they are so mixed up in his mind.

    You're a very special person. Colin would hear this a lot, and yet—somehow—he could never hear it enough. (3.35)

    When Colin is tested to see if he's a prodigy, he's told this, and tt seems like he's waiting to hear it again pretty much the entire novel. He wants to be somebody that people know is an all-star. That's a lot of pressure… for a toddler or a teen.

    But she left anyway, and he was alone in his room, searching out anagrams for mymissingpiece in a vain attempt to fall asleep. (5.102)

    This is pretty much the story of Colin's life: he falls in love with Katherine and then she dumps him. What's interesting here is that he tries to anagram mymissingpiece but can't. We don't think for one second that a whiz kid like Colin can't pick out the words in this phrase (um, hello… mince spies gym); instead, we think his inability to solve the anagram represents the fact that he's looking for something from Katherine that she can't give him. He think he needs someone to complete him, to make him original, but he's wrong, so Katherine isn't his missing piece.

    "I mean, my boy over here is clearly the Primary Colin. There's no one like him. Colin, say 'unique' in as many languages as you can." Colin brought them forth quickly. This was a word he knew. "Um, único, unico, einzigartig, unique, уникáљнњiй, µoυακός, singularis, farid." Hassan was good at his job, no doubt—Colin felt a rush of affection toward him, and the recitation of the words caused something to wash over the omnipresent hole in his gut. (8.45)

    How do we say impressive in all those languages? Colin doesn't just want to be unique, he even knows how to say it a bunch of different ways. This is an important word—and idea—to him; he wants to be a rock star and everybody to know it.

    Colin backed away from the door then. It occurred to him that he'd never done anything else in his whole life. Anagramming; spitting back fact she'd learned in books; memorizing ninety-nine digits of an already known number; falling in love with the same nine letters over and over again: retyping and retyping and retyping and retyping. His only hope for originality was the Theorem. (9.93)

    Poor Colin—we feel for him when he realizes that he's just a poser. He might know a bunch of languages and be able to pull up random factoids at a moment's notice, but he's not done anything that someone else did before him. That bothers him big time.

    That's why people grow weary of listening to Dumpees obsess over their troubles: getting dumped is predictable, repetitive, and boring. They want to stay friends; they feel smothered; it's always them and it's never you; and afterward, you're devastated and they're relieved; it's over for them and just starting for you. And to Colin's mind, at least, there was a deeper repetition: each time, Katherines dumped him because they just didn't like him. They each came to precisely the same conclusion about him. (9.115)

    Trust us: it's never fun getting dumped. But Colin takes it to a whole other level. He's not just down because he lost his honey—he's a goner because people don't like him. He's trying so hard to have his eureka moment that he can't do anything else.

    "You called him Colin," repeated Colin, his voice catching now.

    "Called who Colin?"


    "No." Colin nodded. "Did I?" Colin nodded. "You're sure? Right, of course you're sure. Huh. Well, I'm sorry. That was an asshole move on my part." (13.24-27)

    Colin flips out when Hassan calls TOC by his name, even though it is the guy's name too. So what's the deal? Colin wants to be one of a kind. The fact is, of course, that he just isn't… but that doesn't stop him from getting upset with Hassan.

    "I'm full of shit. I'm never myself. I've got a Southern accent around the oldsters; I'm a nerd for graphs and deep thoughts around you; I'm Miss Bubbly Pretty Princess with Colin. I'm nothing. The thing about chameleoning your way through life is that it gets to where nothing is real. Your problem is—how did you say it—that you're not significant?" (14.55)

    Lindsey shares this with Colin when they're in the cave together. It's easy to judge Lindsey for changing her personality on a whim, but at least she's honest about it. She, too, wants to fit in with everyone, so she makes that happen—the only problem is that she's not even sure who she is anymore.

    Just as almost no true sentence beginning with I could be spoken by Lindsey, Colin was watching all the things he'd thought were true about himself, all his I sentences, fall away. Suddenly, there was not just one missing piece, but thousands of them. (15.86)

    This is a major moment for Colin. He's finally figured out that what he remembers about his relationships isn't real, and it rocks his entire idea of himself. He thought he was the dumpee, but it turns out that he dumped a Katherine. This just shows us how all the characters are searching to define themselves, not just Lindsey.

    Colin's skin was alive with the feeling of connection to everyone in that car and everyone not in it. And he was feeling not-unique in the very best possible way. (epil.32)

    In the end, Colin discovers that he might not be the most unique child-prodigy-turned-adult who's ever walked the earth… and that's okay. He doesn't have to be defined by just one thing: a dumpee, a Colin, a Katherine-lover. Instead, he can figure out what he wants to be, even if someone else is like that too.

  • Love

    "All I ever wanted was for her to love me and to do something meaningful with my life. And look. I mean, look," he said. (2.8)

    Tear. Colin's thoughts on love are so profound and deep, but we can't help but wonder whether this is actually what he feels, or just what he wants to feel. Why does he just want to be loved by a Katherine? Why not just be loved?

    Perhaps, then, Colin ought to have grown accustomed to it, to the rise and fall of relationships. Dating, after all, only ends one way: poorly. If you think about it, and Colin often did, all romantic relationships end in either (1) breakup, (2) divorce, or (3) death. (3.28)

    Way to cheer us up, man. All relationships end so don't even bother is pretty much the message. That's one way to look at it, but another is that all relationships can teach us something or make us feel something that still make them worth it… even with all the heartbreak and tears.

    With all the nasty back-and-forth, Colin fought the urge to ask Katherine whether she still loved him, because the only thing she hated more than his saying she didn't understand was his asking whether she still loved him. He fought the urge and fought it and fought it. For seven seconds. (5.85)

    That's a reeeeeaaaallllly long time to wait… Oh wait—it look longer than seven seconds to read that sentence. That's the whole point: Colin is so impatient and needy when it comes to love. He can't just leave Katherine alone for one minute without asking her if she loves him, which sounds both pretty insecure and pretty annoying.

    The Theorem rests upon the validity of my long-standing argument that the world contains precisely two kinds of people: Dumpers and Dumpees. Everyone is predisposed to being either one or the other, but of course not all people are COMPLETE Dumpers or Dumpees. (7.40)

    Colin soon finds out that even he isn't a total dumpee—he dumped K-3, making him not firmly in one category or the other either. Hmm… perhaps that's no coincidence. Over the course of the novel, Colin's definition and understanding of love grows as he begins to work, solve, and dispute his theorem.

    But it only took a few more Katherines for him to look back nostalgically upon The Great One as the perfect spokesperson for the Katherine Phenomenon. Their three-minute relationship was the thing itself in its most unadulterated form. It was the immutable tango between the Dumper and the Dumpee: the coming and the seeing and the conquering and the returning home. (7.90)

    It's no wonder Colin's got a messed-up love life: he's basing his whole relationship beliefs on a mini-relationship that happened when he was a kid. It's the Katherine that begins it all, and the one that makes him jumble all women up in his head until he can't tell them apart any more.

    "My Theorem will tell the story. Each graph with a beginning and a middle and an end."

    "There's no romance in geometry," Lindsey answered. "Just you wait." (9.113-114)

    Colin's confident that his theorem will be able to tell the story that romance can't on its own. Lindsey, on the other hand, is confident he is wrong. The question is: at the end of the novel, who is right?

    He remained convinced that romantic behavior was basically monotonous and predictable, and that therefore one could write a fairly straight forward formula that would predict the collision course of any two people. But he was worried that he might not be enough of a genius to make the connections. He just couldn't imagine a way to correctly predict the other Katherines without screwing up the ones he'd already gotten down pat. (10.27)

    The fact that Colin thinks of all romance as the same is why he runs into trouble when it comes to the ladies department. No two relationships are the same, but Colin thinks love can be wrapped up neatly with a bow, packaged and translated into a series of numbers. But it just doesn't work like that.

    You can love someone so much, he thought. But you can never love people as much as you can miss them. (10.31)

    This is one of the most important lines in the book. Why? Because it's so telling about how Colin feels about the Katherines. He may spend most of his life moping over one of them leaving him, claiming he wants her back, but what he's really bummed about is not having that person around any more. He's not still loving her necessarily—he's wanting her to still be around because he misses her. Now that's deep.

    "I was thinking about this girl you love so much," she said. "And this place I love so much. And how that happens. How you can just fall into it. This land Hollis is selling, the thing about it is—well, I'm partly mad because I don't want there to be some bullshit McMansion subdivision up there, but also partly because my secret hideout is up there." (13.86)

    Sure, there are different types of love. There's the kind you have for your GF or BF and then there's the type you have for your secret hideaway in the woods. So what do they have in common? Lindsey seems to think it's the process of actually falling in love. It just happens, and before you know it, it's already too late: you're in love whether you wanted to be or not.

    Well, he doesn't love me now. We've been dating for two years and he's never once said it. But he would really not love me if he could see inside. Because he's so real about everything. I mean, you can say a lot of shit about Colin, but he is completely himself. He's going to work in that factory his whole life, and he's going to have the same friends, and he's really happy with that, and he thinks it matters. But if he knew. (14.53)

    Lindsey's sure of it—TOC isn't in love with her because he doesn't know the real her that's around when the performances stop. We might say the same thing about Colin. He's not truly in love with a Katherine because he can't even remember anything about her, aside from that she dumped him (and even that's not always true).

  • Memory and the Past

    This was Colin's first memory: his dad slowly lowering the paper and smiling at him. His dad's eyes were wide with surprise and pleasure, and his smile was uncontainable. "CINDY! THE BOY IS READING THE PAPER!" he shouted. (3.30)

    It's important for us to hear where it all began: the very first memory that Colin has. For most of us it's something silly we did as a kid, but for Colin it's a significant moment in forming who he is today. His whole identity can be traced back to this moment when he became a child prodigy.

    He felt the thrill of it surge through him, his eyes blinking fast as he fought to remember the idea in its completeness. Lying there on his back in the sticky, thick air, the Eureka moment felt like a thousand orgasms all at once, except not as messy. (6.2)

    This is one of the new memories that Colin forms throughout the book. We're so used to seeing him look back on his life that we're excited when he finally wants to join us in the present. But his thoughts are still on remembering—it's just the process instead of the past memories that excite him this time.

    He would use his past—and the Archduke's past, and the whole endless past—to inform the future. He would impress Katherine XIX—she had always loved the idea of him being a genius—and he would make the world safer to Dumpees everywhere. He would matter. (7.7)

    Sure the past and the future are always connected, but Colin wants to highlight that connection by creating his theorem. It's partly that he wants a eureka moment, but it's also that he wants his past to amount to something.

    "What we're doing," she spoke quickly, "is we're putting together an oral history of Gutshot, for future generations. I've been pulling people off the line to do interviews for a couple of weeks, but I ain't gotta now that you're here. Anyway, the downfall of this whole operation so far has been gossip—everybody chattering 'bout what everyone else says or doesn't say. But y'all don't have a reason in the world to talk about whether or not Ellie Mae liked her husband when she married him in 1937. So—it's you two." (8.30)

    As Hollis tells the boys about her project, we learn that it's not just Colin who's interested in memories—Hollis wants to preserve the collective memory of the town for future generations. All this gets Shmoop to thinking: is there a difference between what Hollis is trying to do (catalog memories) and what Colin does (remember the Katherines)?

    "You and me will read a book and find like three interesting things that we remember. But Colin finds everything intriguing. He reads a book about presidents and he remembers more of it because everything he reads clicks in his head as fugging interesting. Honestly, I've seen him do it with the phone book. He'll be like, 'Oh, there are twenty-four listings for Tischler. How fascinating.'" (9.89)

    Thanks to Hassan here, we get a look at how Colin's brain works: his memories are so important to him because it's part of what he does and who he is. He likes to read and remember, and then read some more. We all have a favorite memory, but Colin tries to remember everything.

    Do you ever wonder whether people would like you more or less if they could see inside you? I mean, I've always felt like the Katherines dump me right when they start to see what I look like from the inside—well, except K-19. But I always wonder about that. If people could see me the way I see myself—if they could live in my memories—would anyone, anyone, love me? (14.52)

    If they've got a ticket to someone's memories, we're in. It's such an amazing and weird way to think about what we know about each other. There's the past that we tell people and then there's our memory of it, and sometimes those two things just don't line up.

    Colin leaned back against the rotten tree, his back arching over it until he was staring at the cloudy sky. Betrayed by his vaunted memory! He had, indeed, remarked eighteen and snubbed the rest. How could he remember everything about her and not remember that he dumped her? (15.84)

    Good question, Colin. This is a big revelation to him because he's spent his whole life remembering the Katherines one way, only to discover he's been wrong. It makes us wonder whether anything he remembers about the Katherines is really true. How much can we trust his memories if some of them aren't real?

    Above him, the interweaving branches seemed to split the sky into a million little pieces. He felt like he had vertigo. The one facility he'd always trusted—memory—was a fraud. And he might have gone on thinking about it for hours, or at least until Mr. Lyford returned, except at that very moment he heard a weird grunting noise and simultaneously felt Hassan's hand tap his knee. (15.88)

    We'd like to point out that to Colin, his memory is the most important thing about him—it defines him. Yet, he can't trust it because it's a phony. It's funny that he's critical of Lindsey playing different parts (ditzy, southern, nerdy) because in a way he's done the same thing. He's chalked himself up to be this collection of memories, but they are not real.

    Well, or to be forgotten, because someday no one will know who's really buried there. Already a lot of kids at school and stuff think the Archduke is really buried here, and I like that. I like knowing one story and having everyone else know another. That's why those tapes we made are going to be so great one day, because they'll tell stories that time has swallowed up or distorted or whatever. (19.57)

    Who is really buried in the Archduke's grave might seem like a random twist in the story, but it helps us think about how fickle memory is for everyone. The new generation of Gutshoters don't even know what they are being told is a lie, so they form a memory on a "fact" that is not true in the first place. It's the same with Colin's mind remembering something that's not true.

    "And the moral of the story is that you don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened. And the second moral of the story, if a story can have multiple morals, is that Dumpers are not inherently worse than Dumpees—breaking up isn't something that gets done to you; it's something that happens with you." (19.91)

    Eureka—Colin finally realizes his memories have a story of their own. His memory becomes what happened between him and the Katherines, because he has nothing else to go on, and that's exactly why he shouldn't put too much stock in them. They aren't real or true, and they can change over time.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    "I just love her so much," was Colin's answer. But the truth was that, in Colin's mind, the problems were related. The problem was that this most special, magnificent, brilliant boy was—well, not. The Problem itself was that He didn't matter. (2.17)

    We're totally on board with the idea that our lives should count for something, and that no one should just throw theirs away. But we can't help but wonder whether Colin's just using this to put pressure on himself to be something he's not (which we definitely do not advise).

    "Do you sometimes feel like a circle missing a piece?" his dad wondered.

    "Daddy, I am not a circle. I am a boy." (3.45-46)

    Did someone order a side of symbolism? Colin's dad thinks he might be missing something, but Colin doesn't understand what his dad means. He is just a toddler after all. Yet, this rings true throughout the rest of the novel. Colin can't really figure out normal ways to interact with people.

    Colin had no response to that. But he just didn't get Hassan's apathy. What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable? How very odd, to believe God gave you life, and yet not think that life asks more of you than watching TV. (5.56)

    This quote sums up Colin's whole philosophy in life, and we like his idea that we should all try to do something meaningful. We might ask, though, whether reading the phone book and other random books to learn factoids is any better than watching TV. We'll let you be the judge.

    As he worked on the Theorem, Colin was so focused that the world outside his notebook seemed not to exist, so he jolted upright in surprise when he heard, from behind him, Lindsey say, "Time for dinner, dude." (13.33)

    Colin is so lost in his thoughts and his work that he can't see the world around him. Just like he didn't get what his dad was saying about missing a piece (above), he doesn't know how to interact with the world when he is lost in his thoughts. He might want to matter to the world, but he certainly doesn't live in it.

    "Whatever, I like you, and I never really like anybody. Hassan likes you, and I can tell that he never really likes anybody, either. You just need more people who don't like people." (14.4)

    Bam—Lindsey sure knows how to tell it straight. She's not one of those lovey-dovey gals who wants to be BFFs with everyone in sight, and yet she still likes Colin. It's important for him to come to the realization that not everyone loves the popular kids, and that there are loads of people just like him who only exist on the fringes of the cool kids.

    We're invisible. I've never been here with someone else. It's different being invisible with someone. (14.19)

    Shh… we're in a super secret hiding place. Lindsey takes Colin to her hideaway where it's so dark they can't even see each other. We're interested in the way she thinks about her life—she can't be seen by anyone, yet she's with Colin. It's as though they are together, but apart from the rest of the world.

    "I feel like I've only ever been two things," he said softly. "I'm a child prodigy, and I'm dumped by Katherines. But now I'm—"

    "Neither," Hassan said. (15.85-86)

    It's rough when you have a life-altering, time-shifting bombshell thrown at you. For Colin, that's when he figures out he's not actually either of the things he thought made him him. We can totally relate to this. When something like this happens, you've got to figure out what you really want your life to be about, and that's what Colin does (or at least tries to do).

    So perhaps the Golden Rule indicated that he should stay mum, and the Golden Rule was really Colin's only Rule. It was because of the Golden Rule, actually, that he hated himself for Katherine III: he'd believed that Katherines did unto him as he would never have done unto them. But there was more to consider than the Golden Rule: there was the small matter of liking Lindsey. That shouldn't factor in to an ethical decision, of course. But it did. (16.12)

    Rule #1: Don't follow the rules. Colin is obsessed with rules, facts, and figures, and those don't amount to a life. He figures out he can't make a decision based solely on rules, that he's got to make it with his heart as well. Telling Lindsey about TOC's love fest with Katrina is actually one of the first times he does something for himself (aside from all the number crunching and fact-learning).

    "I don't think you can ever fill the empty space with the thing you lost. Like getting TOC to date you doesn't fix the Alpo event. I don't think your missing pieces ever fit inside you again once they go missing. Like Katherine. That's what I realized: if I did get her back somehow, she wouldn't fill the hole that losing her created."

    "Maybe no girl can fill it."

    "Right. Being a world-famous Theorem-creator wouldn't, either. That's what I've been thinking, that maybe life is not about accomplishing some bullshit markers. Wait, what's funny?" (19.48)

    Isn't that exactly what Colin's trying to do? He wants to prove his worth in life by creating a world-famous theorem. But Lindsey's right—you can't change who you are just by coming up with a fancypants math formula or dating the guy who jilted you years ago. You've got to move past that and in to your own existence. Words to live by, no?

    And the other moral of the story is that you, Smartypants, just told an amazing story, proving that given enough time, and enough coaching, and enough hearing stories from current and former associates of Gunshot Textiles, anyone—anyone—can learn to tell a damned good story. (19.92)

    Throughout the novel, Lindsey teaches Colin how to tell stories. Really, this is just one big lesson in how to interact with people—did you notice how one of the first lessons is don't interrupt? Duh—we learned that in kindergarten. Her lessons help Colin shift into another existence, one of interacting instead of just reading and learning.

  • Coming of Age

    The water inched up his legs, which were crossed and folded into the tub. He did recognize, albeit faintly, that he was too long, and too big, for this bathtub—he looked like a mostly grown person playing at being a kid. (1.1)

    In the bath, Colin thinks about how he's already grown up but stuck in a kid's body. Doesn't that describe Colin all the time? He never acts like an adult, and he's so self-absorbed and moody that it's hard to think of him as one.

    "A road trip," Colin said. He had an overstuffed duffel bag at his feet and a backpack stretched taut, which contained only books. He and Hassan were sitting on a black leather couch. Colin's parents sat across from them on an identical couch. Colin's mother shook her head rhythmically, like a disapproving metronome.

    "To where?" she asked. "And why?" (3.1-2) 

    Cue the eye roll. Parents can be so parental sometimes. And, of course, Colin's mom's concerns aren't shared by Colin and Hassan. They don't want to answer these practical and responsible questions—they just want to roam free and have fun.

    "No offense, Mrs. Singleton," Hassan said, putting his feet up on the coffee table (which you were not allowed to do), "but you're sort of missing the point. There is no where or why." (3.1)

    Irony, anyone? There's a contrast here between (1) what Hassan says and (2) what Hassan does. He's saying that they should be allowed to go off wherever and whenever they want because they're adults, but what he does is break the rules (by putting his feet on the table) and act immature. We're pretty sure both of those are frowned upon in adult-land.

    Maybe we don't need to see the Archduke," said Hassan. "We're on a road trip. It's about adventure," Colin mimicked. (5.25)

    Colin wants to get away, but once he and Hassan are away, he doesn't want to stop anywhere or do anything. Then comes the Archduke. This is the first time Colin is even remotely interested in moving on with his life and doing something other than act like a bratty teen.

    You're just—you spend all your time worrying about losing your edge or getting dumped or whatever and you're never for a second grateful. You're the valedictorian. You're going to a great school next year, for free. So maybe you're not a child prodigy. That's good. At least you're not a child anymore. Or, you're not supposed to be, anyway. (5.80)

    Ouch. Translation: You don't act like an adult, Colin. We hate it say it, but Katherine's right—growing up is about more than reaching the big 1-8. It's about acting mature and making good decisions, but Colin can't go seven seconds without checking in with Katherine because he's so childish.

    Like, the other day, I told Hassan I wanted to matter—like, be remembered. And he said, 'famous is the new popular.' Maybe he's right, and maybe I just want to be famous. I was thinking about this tonight, actually, that maybe I want strangers to think I'm cool since people who actually know me don't. (7.83)

    It's with Lindsey that Colin starts reflecting on himself and what he wants, and he tells her here that he wants to matter and make a difference in the world. If that's not grown-up thinking, we don't know what is.

    Colin sighed. He knew he couldn't tell stories, that he always included extraneous details and tangents that interested only him. "Anyway, the end of that story is that I came relatively close to having a lion bite off my penis. And my point was that shit like that never happens to popular people. Ever." (7.84)

    Say what? Colin can't tell a story to save his life. If you think about it, even kids can tell stories to their friends… but Colin never had any friends, and he doesn't know how to behave with people. Bit by bit, Lindsey helps him learn how to tell stories, and what to say to people.

    Colin liked the movie pretty well; he laughed a lot, anyway, and he found comfort in a world where all the characters who had been smart children grew up to be really fascinating, unique adults (even if they were all s crewed up). (8.87)

    It's no coincidence that Colin feels comforted by The Royal Tenenbaums— he likes the fact that weirdos in childhood can turn out fine in adulthood. He's just not sure if he's going to join that club yet, or stay a child prodigy for the rest of his life.

    He knew that his mom wanted him to have an adventure. She'd always wished he could be a normal kid. Colin suspected she'd be secretly pleased if he came home one night at three in the morning reeking of booze, because that would be normal. Normal kids come home late; normal kids drink warm forties of malt liquor in alleys with their friends (normal kids have more than one friend). His father wanted Colin to transcend all that stuff, but maybe even he was starting to see the unlikelihood of Colin ever becoming extraordinary. (9.87)

    That's a lot of pressure for Colin. How is a kid supposed to choose which path to follow?

    And I'm a not-doer. Like, I'm lazy, but I'm also good at not-doing things I'm not supposed to do. I never drank or did drugs or hooked up with girls or beat people up or stole or anything. I was always good at that, although not so much this particular summer. But then doing all that stuff here felt weird and wrong, so now I'm back to happily not-doing. But I've never been a doer. I never did anything that helped anybody. (18.58)

    Leave it to Hassan to sum up his character better than anybody else. He knows he's not out there doin' stuff that matters (like Colin wants to), and for most of the novel, he couldn't care less about this fact. It's in this moment we see that he's growing and learning who he wants to be… and that person isn't just sitting around watching Judge Judy all day.

  • Happiness

    Colin took a deep breath and slid down, immersing his head. I am crying, he thought, opening his eyes to stare through the soapy, stinging water. I feel like crying, so I must be crying, but it's impossible to tell because I'm underwater. But he wasn't crying. Curiously, he felt too depressed to cry. Too hurt. It felt as if she'd taken the part of him that cried. (1.8)

    Let's start at the very beginning (it's a very good place to start): Colin is not happy after K-19 dumps him. Okay, we get that. There's something else in this passage we're not quite sure we understand though—he doesn't even know if he's crying. Is this because he's so mopey about life in general that he's lost sight of his own emotions?

    "Think of all you could do this summer, Colin. You could learn Sanskrit," said his dad. "I know how you've been wanting to learn Sanskrit. "Will you really be happy just driving around aimlessly? That doesn't seem like you. Frankly, it seems like quitting." (3.4)

    It's funny that his dad asks whether Colin will be happy right after he hears about the road trip. He might be asking if Colin's happy, but really, his dad is more concerned about his life path and what he will achieve. It's up to Colin to sort out which life path will actually make him happy.

    Mrs. Harbish shook her head and pursed her lips. "Don't I tell you," she said in accented English, "not to mess with girls? Hassan is a good boy, doesn't do this 'dating.' And look how happy he is. You should learn from him." (3.15)

    In a lot of ways, Hassan's mom is right—Colin would be much happier if he didn't mess around with the Katherines. He couldn't whine about them dumping him then. On the other hand, we're not sure Hassan really qualifies as the best sample of happiness; he even admits later on that he's lazy and should do something else with his life.

    "Oh my God, Colin. Please. We graduated. We're happy. Celebrate!"

    "What, are you afraid to say it?"

    "I love you." She would never—not ever—tell him those words in that order ever again. (5.87-89)

    Hooray? In one of Colin's memories, he and Katherine go out to celebrate their graduation. They've just hit a huge milestone, but are they happy?

    He sketched: Where x = time, and y = happiness, y = 0 beginning of relationship and breakup, y negative = breakup by m, and y positive = breakup by f: my relationship with K-19. (6.4)

    It's a wonky idea to begin with: create a math formula that can chart (or even predict) a relationship. But it gets even wonkier when Colin uses happiness as one of the factors. How can happiness be measured? Are you 7 out of 10 on the scale of happiness, or a 6? How can anyone possibly put a number on an emotion?

    Talk to your mother," he said, which is what his dad always said. After a few moments (Colin could just see them talking while his dad held his hand over the receiver), his mom picked up.

    "Well, are you happy?"

    "I wouldn't go that far. "

    "Happier?" his mom tried.

    "Marginally," he allowed. "I'm not lying facedown on the carpet." (9.82-86)

    When Colin first gets to Hollis's place, he has this little convo with his mom. Again, one of his parents wants to know if he's happy, but the answer is still not a resounding yes. He's getting there, though. So what's changed between the beginning (where he was crying in the bathtub) and now?

    He's going to work in that factory his whole life, and he's going to have the same friends, and he's really happy with that, and he thinks it matters. (14.54)

    What makes you happy? For TOC, it's the same old, same old—he's happy to live in a small town and work in the same place for his whole life. For Colin, he wants to matter; and for Lindsey, she's not quite sure. The truth is, it takes different things to make people happy, and even then these things can change.

    "I only registered for two classes in the fall, so don't start creaming yourself. I've got to ease my way into it. Don't tell me how fugging happy you are. I know. (17.71)

    Colin has been waiting for Hassan to register for college since we first met the guy, so when it finally happens, we know Colin's over the moon, but Hassan doesn't want to hear it. Why? We're betting Hassan wants to experience it for himself, and that he doesn't want Colin's emotions dictating his life.

    "That's how I remember things, anyway. I remember stories. I connect the dots and then out of that comes a story. And the dots that don't fit into the story just slide away, maybe. Like when you spot a constellation. You look up and you don't see all the stars. All the stars just look like the big fugging random mess that they are. But you want to see shapes; you want to see stories, so you pick them out of the sky. Hassan told me once you think like that, too—that you see connections everywhere—so you're a natural born storyteller, it turns out." (19.91)

    This is how Lindsey gets happy: she makes connections and tells stories to people. We like the way she connects it to what's going on with Colin—they're in the same boat, really, they just steer it to different places. Lindsey feels happiness in the hidden links between things in life, while Colin tries to find those links in books and langauges.

    Colin wanted to be all-the-way happy, he really did—because ever since he saw the steepness of the curve with Lindsey, he'd been hoping that it'd be wrong. But as he sat there on the bed, the note in his still-shaky hands, he couldn't help but feel that he would never be a genius. For as much as he believed Lindsey that what matters to you defines your mattering, he still wanted the Theorem to work, still wanted to be as special as everyone had always told him he was. (epil.14)

    When all is said and done, is Colin happy? We think he finally wants to be, but he's not sure how to actually get there. His theorem doesn't work, his life philosophy is down the drain, and he isn't either of the two things (prodigy, dumpee) he thought he was. That bites.

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    As Colin had explained to Hassan countless times, there's a stark difference between the words prodigy and genius. Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do. The vast majority of child prodigies don't become adult geniuses. Colin was almost certain that he was among that unfortunate majority. (2.16)

    Why does he feel the need to explain the difference over and over again? Is it because he hasn't earned his stripes when it comes to be a genius? Or is he trying to convince himself of something? We'll let you decide.

    The problem was that this most special, magnificent, brilliant boy was—well, not. The Problem itself was that he didn't matter. Colin Singleton, noted child prodigy, noted veteran of Katherine Conflicts, noted nerd and sitzpinkler, didn't matter to Katherine XIX, and he didn't matter to the world. All of a sudden, he wasn't anyone's boyfriend or anyone's genius. And that—to use the kind of complex word you'd expect from a prodigy—blew. (2.17)

    We'll take a side of irony with our reading, thanks. Blew isn't the kind of word we'd expect from a prodigy at all. In fact, the more Colin thinks about it, the more he doesn't really seem like a prodigy—he's just a kid who knows how to absorb facts quickly.

    His dad paused. He always paused after a question, and then when he did speak, it was in complete sentences without ums or likes or uhs—as if he'd memorized his response. "It pains me to say this, Colin, but if you wish to continue to grow intellectually, you need to work harder right now than you ever have before. Otherwise, you risk wasting your potential." (3.6)

    When he tells his parents he's going on a random road trip, Colin gets the standard response from his dad—he's wasting his potential. Ouch. Is all his incessant studying just to prove to his dad that he's lived up to some markers? We're not sure Colin can ever fully reach this magical place where he's certified as a genius.

    But I'm past my prime." She laughed. "Seriously. There are studies about this shit. Prodigies tend to hit their peak at, like twelve or thirteen. What have I done? I won a fugging game show a year ago? That's my indelible mark on human history?" (5.102)

    You're seventeen and your whole life is ahead of you… most high school grads are thinking about college or jobs, but not Colin. He's already regretting his whole existence because he hasn't become a genius.

    "Okay. A smartypants?" Colin laughed. It suited him. No longer a prodigy, not yet a genius—but still a smartypants. "I don't play games," Colin said. "I don't really play much." (7.68)

    We love how Lindsey mocks Colin. So what if you're a child prodigy? You can still play games and have fun. Colin's never thought about anything but getting more knowledge, and doesn't even really know how to have fun. Call us stupid, but knowing how to have fun seems like a pretty crucial thing to know to Shmoop.

    "Okay," she said. "Here's the thing about storytelling: you need a beginning, and a middle, and an end. Your stories have no plots. They're like, here's something I was thinking and then the next thing I was thinking and then et cetera. You can't get away with rambling. You're Colin Singleton, Beginning Storyteller, so you've got to stick to a straight plot." And you need a good, strong moral. Or a theme or whatever. And the other thing is romance and adventure. You've got to put some of those in." (9.113)

    It's funny that Colin (known child prodigy trying to make his way as a genius) needs a lesson from Lindsey on something as simple as telling a story. No one can master everything, but Colin has spent so much time with his head in books that he doesn't know how to function in everyday life.

    But he was worried that he might not be enough of a genius to make the connections. He just couldn't imagine a way to correctly predict the other Katherines without screwing up the ones he'd already gotten down pat. And for some reason, his feared lack of genius made him miss K-19 more than he had since his face was pressed flat against his bedroom carpet. The missing piece in his stomach hurt so much—and eventually he stopped thinking about the Theorem and wondered only how something that isn't there can hurt you. (10.23)

    Um, okay—Colin really knows how to make a domino effect, and he lets his breakups lead him down a road of despair. First stop? Depression over not being a genius. He puts so much pressure on himself to be a genius that we don't really know if he is all that wise. Smart, yes, but wise?

    He believed Colin's development ought to involve a delicate interplay between what he called "active, results-oriented parenting" and Colin's natural predisposition to studying. This basically meant letting Colin study and setting "markers," which were exactly like goals except they were called markers. Colin's father believed that this kind of prodigy—born and then made smarter by the right environment and education—could become a considerable genius, remembered forever. (11.30)

    At least Colin's dad's approach is straightforward: all study and no play makes Colin a smart boy. But it's a lot of studying… and for what? We're not sure you can just become a genius one day. There's no checklist to being the most amazing, intelligent person on the planet. (Wait, is there? If one exists, can we see it?)

    "But anyway, I can imagine this Katherine now, a little bit. She's clever. And she's just a little mean to you. I think you get off on that. Most guys do. That's how I got Colin, really. Katrina was hotter and wanted him worse. They'd been dating for a while when he fell for me. But she was too easy. I know she's my friend and possibly Hassan's girlfriend and whatever, but Katrina's easier than a four-piece jigsaw puzzle." (14.1)

    Lindsey's got it all figured out—she's never even met the Katherines but she can see the game that they're playing with Colin's heart. She can sum up everyone so easily, which makes us think she might be the wisest one of the bunch. She just gets it.

    Hassan stood up, smiling through his busted lip. He rubbed the Jew-fro as he walked by, and then paused at the doorway and said, "Me and Thunderstick decided to take our show to college," Hassan said. (17.44)

    Finally Hassan registers for college. He sees that everyone else is out and doing while he just sits around on his butt watching reruns of old TV shows. We're always behind someone going to college, but Hassan's enrollment makes us wonder what took him so long. What was he afraid of, or putting off? Why did he say dingleberries almost every time Colin brought it up before this?

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Upon making this discovery, Archimedes supposedly shouted "Eureka!" and then ran naked through the streets. The book said that many important discoveries contained a "Eureka moment." And even then, Colin very much wanted to have some important discoveries, so he asked his mom about it when she got home that evening. (1.2)

    It's great to have goals in life, but come on—the kid's a toddler when he starts to pressure himself to have a eureka moment. Maybe it's not that Colin isn't living up to his potential; perhaps instead it's that his plans and goals are just too darn unattainable. After all, how many people can really credit themselves with making a huge discovery like Archimedes?

    "Technically," Colin answered, "I think I might have already wasted it." Maybe it was because Colin had never once in his life disappointed his parents: he did not drink or do drugs or smoke cigarettes or wear black eyeliner or stay out late or get bad grades or pierce his tongue or have the words "KATHERINE LUVA 4 LIFE" tattooed across his back. Or maybe they felt guilty, like somehow they'd failed him and brought him to this place. (3.7)

    After he tells his parents about the road trip, he lets them in on a secret: his potential is already wasted. Yikes. We're not so sure about that. You can still have hopes and dreams and be an all-star even if you don't have a huge eureka moment. Too bad Colin doesn't believe that.

    Prodigy Huge, megalithic corporation seeks a talented, ambitious prodigy to join our exciting, dynamic Prodigy Division for summer job. Requirements include at least fourteen years' experience as a certified child prodigy, ability to anagram adeptly (and alliterate agilely), fluency in eleven languages. Job duties include reading, remembering encyclopedias, novels, and poetry; and memorizing the first ninety-nine digits of pi. (3.63)

    Calling all prodigies—this advertisement is what Colin imagines about his life. Check out his lengthy list marketable skills… yet very few of these matter when applying for a real job. Colin's filled his dreams with impressive amounts of knowledge, but none of it transfers into real life.

    He could just never see anything coming, and as he lay on the solid, uneven ground with Hassan pressing too hard on his forehead, Colin Singleton's distance from his glasses made him realize the problem: myopia. He was nearsighted. The future lay before him, inevitable but invisible. (5.66)

    After he hits his head, Colin begins to think of the past and the future. His memories of the Katherines swirl together, and he wonders what will happen in his life. The fact that he's missing his glasses from the fall gives us a nice little metaphor for his future. He can't see it clearly because all he can see is what's right in front of him. See what we did there?

    But now Colin would fill his own hole and make people stand up and take notice of him. He would stay special, use his talent to do something more interesting and important than anagramming and translating Latin. And yes, again the Eureka washed over him, the yes-yes-yes of it. He would use his past—and the Archduke's past, and the whole endless past—to inform the future. (7.7)

    Back to the future Colin goes, with the memories of Katherine in one hand and his ideas for his theorem in the other. We'd like to point out that even as Colin tries to makes plans for the future, he stumbles on his past—it's as if he can't escape being a child prodigy and a Katherine-dumpee.

    Colin lay down on the dry, orange dirt and let the tall grass swallow him up, making him invisible. The sweat pouring down his face was indistinguishable from his tears. He was finally—finally—crying. He remembered their arms entangled, their stupid little inside jokes, the way he felt when he would come over to her house after school and see her reading through the window. He missed it all. He thought of being with her in college, having the freedom to sleep over whenever they wanted, both of them at Northwestern together. He missed that, too, and it hadn't even happened. He missed his imagined future. (10.26)

    Colin finally breaks down here, and it's one of the only moments we see him with any real emotion. He's not running stats or comparing Katherines—nope, he's just sad about what he's lost in getting dumped. It comes as no surprise that the thing he mourns the most isn't having a GF or even a specific Katherine; it's his future. He doesn't know how to cope without his plans and dreams coming true.

    The reading quieted his brain a little. Without Katherine and without the Theorem and without his hopes of mattering, he had very little. But he always had books. Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they'll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back. (11.11)

    You know you're in trouble when you start thinking about books as human beings, as people you can dump and get back together with whenever you feel like it. Colin imagines what his life will be like without any Katherine or theorem or name for himself, and we'll be honest: it ain't pretty.

    In short, he had been counting upon a reunion. He'd been assuming that the Theorem could see into the future, when K-19 would return to him. But the Theorem, he decided, couldn't take into account its own influence. (13.46)

    Colin claims he's trying to use the theorem to predict the future, but in reality, he's just wanting it to say he and K-19 will get back together. Sadly, no matter how he crunches the numbers, he can't get it to work. Hint, hint.

    Spring Break, and she was this short fiery woman who hated being called a girl, and she liked me and at first it seemed she shared my massive sense of insecurity, and so I just built up my hopes ridiculously and found myself writing her these extravagantly long and painfully philosophical e-mails, and then she dumped me over e-mail after only two actual dates and four actual kisses, whereupon I found myself writing her these extravagantly long and painfully pathetic e-mails. (19.89)

    Even though Colin is talking about K-8, he's really sharing his history with all of the Katherines: First he falls madly and deeply in love, and then he gets dumped; repeat cycle.

    In that moment, the future—uncontainable by any Theorem mathematical or otherwise—stretched out before Colin: infinite and unknowable and beautiful. "Eureka," Colin said, and only in saying it did he realize he had just successfully whispered. "I figured something out," he said aloud. "The future is unpredictable." (epil.22)

    It takes the whole novel, but at the very end, Colin realizes he can't predict the future. It's a shame too—a formula like that could make him millions.